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Living with hearing loss

If you are living with hearing loss, you know that it takes extra effort to communicate with others.

There are techniques you can learn to improve communication and avoid stress. These techniques can also help you:

  • Avoid becoming socially isolated
  • Remain more independent
  • Be safer wherever you are

Managing the Environment

Many things in your surroundings can affect how well you hear and understand what others are saying. These include:

  • The type of room or space you are in, and how the room is set up.
  • The distance between you and the person talking. Sound fades over distance, so you will be able to hear better if you are closer to the speaker.
  • The presence of distracting background sounds, such as heat and air conditioning, traffic noises, or the radio or TV. In order for speech to be heard easily, it should be 20 to 25 decibels louder than any other surrounding noises.
  • Hard floors and other surfaces that cause sounds to bounce and echo. It is easier to hear in rooms with carpeting and upholstered furniture.

Changes in your house or office can help you hear better:

  • Make sure there is enough lighting to see facial features and other visual cues.
  • Position your chair so that your back is to a light source rather than your eyes.
  • If your hearing is better in one ear, position your chair so the person talking is more likely to speak into your stronger ear.

When Taking Part in a Conversation

To better follow a conversation:

  • Stay alert and pay close attention to what the other person is saying.
  • Notify the person with whom you are speaking of your hearing difficulty.
  • Listen to the flow of the conversation for a while, if there are things you do not pick up at first. Certain words or phrases will often come up again in most conversations.
  • If you become lost, stop the conversation and ask for something to be repeated.
  • Use a technique called speech reading to help understand what is being said. This method involves watching a person's face, posture, gestures, and tone of voice to get the meaning of what is being said. This is different from lip reading. There needs to be enough light in the room to see the other person's face in order to use this technique.
  • Carry a notepad and pencil and ask for a key word or phrase to be written down if you do not catch it.

What Else

Many different devices to help people with hearing loss are available. If you are using hearing aids, regular visits with your audiologist are important.

People around you can also learn methods to help them talk to a person with hearing loss.

References

Andrews J. Optimizing the built environment for frail older adults. In: Fillit HM, Rockwood K, Young J, eds. Brocklehurst's Textbook of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 132.

Dugan MB. Living with Hearing Loss. Washington DC: Gallaudet University Press; 2003.

Eggermont JJ. Hearing aids. In: Eggermont JJ, ed. Hearing Loss. Cambridge, MA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 9.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) website. Assistive devices for people with hearing, voice, speech, or language disorders. www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/assistive-devices-people-hearing-voice-speech-or-language-disorders. Updated March 6, 2017. Accessed June 16, 2019.

Oliver M. Communication devices and electronic aids to activities of daily living. In: Webster JB, Murphy DP, eds. Atlas of Orthoses and Assistive Devices. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 40.

  • Hearing loss

    Animation

  •  

    Hearing loss - Animation

    We often take for granted all of the sounds around us, the bark of a dog, the buzz of a bee, or the melody of our favorite symphony. Yet for many people, the world is a very quiet place. They've lost the ability to hear sounds in one or both ears. Let's talk about hearing loss. To understand how you lose hearing, you first need to know what normally happens inside your ear when you hear. Say that a fire engine roars past. First, the sound of the siren reaches your eardrum in your outer ear. Your eardrum vibrates, which moves three tiny bones in your middle ear. These bones push the sound along to the cochlea, a fluid-filled chamber in your inner ear. The cochlea is lined with tiny hairs that vibrate when the sound waves hit them. These hairs convert the sound waves into an electrical signal. That's when your brain realizes that a fire engine is headed toward you. Hearing loss can have many different causes. Loud noises, pressure changes while you're scuba diving, or a head injury can all damage the delicate structures in your ear that allow you to hear. Infections like measles, mumps, and meningitis can also damage the ear. Sometimes earwax can build up in your ear and block your hearing like a plug. As you get older, you may gradually lose your hearing, even if you don't have an illness or injury. When the damage or other problem is to your outer or middle ear, it's called conductive hearing loss. For example, your eardrum may not vibrate when you hear sound. Or, the tiny bones in your middle ear may not move sound to the inner ear. Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by a problem in the inner ear. Often it's because the tiny hair cells that move sound through the ear don't work right because of damage or disease, and stem cells in the ear can't keep up with the repair. If you have problems with both your inner and outer ear, then you have mixed hearing loss. So, how do you treat hearing loss? If you're noticing that voices sound fuzzy and you can't make out what people are saying, see your doctor for a hearing test. The doctor will examine your ears, and give you a test called audiometry to check the type and amount of hearing you've lost. You may also have imaging tests such as a CT or MRI scan if you've had a head injury. A hearing aid can amplify sounds to help you hear more clearly. Today's hearing aids are so small they're barely noticeable. If you have a buildup of earwax in your ear, an ear syringe filled with warm water can help flush it out. Sometimes surgery can be done to fix damage in your ear and improve your hearing. Don't accept hearing loss as an inevitable part of growing older. See your doctor for a hearing evaluation. Often, hearing loss that's due to a problem in your outer or middle ear can be reversed. Protect the hearing that you do have by avoiding loud noises, and wearing earplugs when you have to be exposed to loud sounds.

  • Hearing loss

    Animation

  •  

    Hearing loss - Animation

    We often take for granted all of the sounds around us, the bark of a dog, the buzz of a bee, or the melody of our favorite symphony. Yet for many people, the world is a very quiet place. They've lost the ability to hear sounds in one or both ears. Let's talk about hearing loss. To understand how you lose hearing, you first need to know what normally happens inside your ear when you hear. Say that a fire engine roars past. First, the sound of the siren reaches your eardrum in your outer ear. Your eardrum vibrates, which moves three tiny bones in your middle ear. These bones push the sound along to the cochlea, a fluid-filled chamber in your inner ear. The cochlea is lined with tiny hairs that vibrate when the sound waves hit them. These hairs convert the sound waves into an electrical signal. That's when your brain realizes that a fire engine is headed toward you. Hearing loss can have many different causes. Loud noises, pressure changes while you're scuba diving, or a head injury can all damage the delicate structures in your ear that allow you to hear. Infections like measles, mumps, and meningitis can also damage the ear. Sometimes earwax can build up in your ear and block your hearing like a plug. As you get older, you may gradually lose your hearing, even if you don't have an illness or injury. When the damage or other problem is to your outer or middle ear, it's called conductive hearing loss. For example, your eardrum may not vibrate when you hear sound. Or, the tiny bones in your middle ear may not move sound to the inner ear. Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by a problem in the inner ear. Often it's because the tiny hair cells that move sound through the ear don't work right because of damage or disease, and stem cells in the ear can't keep up with the repair. If you have problems with both your inner and outer ear, then you have mixed hearing loss. So, how do you treat hearing loss? If you're noticing that voices sound fuzzy and you can't make out what people are saying, see your doctor for a hearing test. The doctor will examine your ears, and give you a test called audiometry to check the type and amount of hearing you've lost. You may also have imaging tests such as a CT or MRI scan if you've had a head injury. A hearing aid can amplify sounds to help you hear more clearly. Today's hearing aids are so small they're barely noticeable. If you have a buildup of earwax in your ear, an ear syringe filled with warm water can help flush it out. Sometimes surgery can be done to fix damage in your ear and improve your hearing. Don't accept hearing loss as an inevitable part of growing older. See your doctor for a hearing evaluation. Often, hearing loss that's due to a problem in your outer or middle ear can be reversed. Protect the hearing that you do have by avoiding loud noises, and wearing earplugs when you have to be exposed to loud sounds.

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    Review Date: 5/22/2019

    Reviewed By: Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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